Jim Lauderdale: "Slugging Along and Slugging It Out"
Photo by Michael Weintrob
It's little wonder that any attempt to get Jim Lauderdale on the phone can become something of a challenge.
After all, given the man's propensity for extreme multi-tasking, any chance of catching him when he's not in the studio would seem to require both expert timing and enormous luck.
Indeed, Lauderdale's habit of putting out multiple albums at the same time (not to mention keeping busy with a radio show ("The Buddy & Jim Show"), live podcasts (via musiccityroots.com), constant songwriting and ongoing collaborations) make it almost impossible to catch up with him.
In order to illustrate that assertion, one need only look at his crowded trajectory, one which first took shape in the late '80s, once his attempts to establish himself as both a singer and a songwriter led to a series of recording contracts with a succession of major labels -- Columbia, Warner Bros. Atlantic, and RCA among them. Unfortunately, many of these initial associations led to frustration, owed in certain circumstances to albums that were recorded but never released and albums that were released but failed to make any dent on the charts. Ironically, the songs he wrote for other artists at the time -- Elvis Costello, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, VInce Gill and Patty Loveless, among them -- did do well enough to prove his potential as a writer of renown.
Happily then, the 56-year old North Carolina native and current denizen of Nashville found his footing after a run of albums recorded under the banners of various independent labels, each of which gave him the freedom to explore his multitude of interests, be in bluegrass, country or the overriding reach of Americana. Likewise, he found himself sharing the studio with such prodigious players as the great Ralph Stanley, the nu-grass band Donna the Buffalo, his longtime pal Buddy Miller, and, most recently, legendary Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, to whom Lauderdale paid emotional tribute when he once again hosted last year's Americana Music Awards.
Indeed, Lauderdale's level of activity has actually increased in recent years. In the last two alone, he's recorded no less than half a dozen an albums, three of which -- Black Roses, Blue Moon Junction and Old Time Angels -- were released simultaneously at the end of 2013. The year before, he paired with Buddy Miller for Buddy & Jim, while his work with Hunter spans many of the recordings he's made in the past decade.
Consequently, it was something of a surprise to find him working on yet another new album when the time came to parcel out some time for our discussion. Nevertheless, when he does find time to chat, Lauderdale proves to be a thoughtful subject, thanks to his well considered responses and a quiet humility that's all the more affecting. Still, it can be somewhat dizzying trying to keep up.
Crossfade: So here you are, fresh off a trio of new albums and you've already returned to the studio.
Jim Lauderdale: I'm always under my own self imposed deadline. I've got twenty songs for my new country album and it's pretty good. I'm really pleased with it. I haven't done a country record -- I don't think -- in awhile. It's kind of traditionally based, heavy telly and steel kind of stuff. Some of that kind of stuff was last on a record called Country Super Hits from about six years ago and a record from about five years ago called Honey Songs. And some of Patchwork River, which I wrote with Robert Hunter, is also kind of country-ish. So yeah, I just like it. Creating a record is kind of a nerve-wracking process in a way. Yet it's really gratifying at the same time. Late last night I finished the lyric for a song I had the melody for. I had the title for it too, but I didn't have the lyric. So I finished it real late, and as a result, I was in a great mood today because of that. [Laughs]
Your ability to work on so many albums simultaneously and turn them out so quickly is nothing less than extraordinary.
Well, the way I look at it is that it's not hurting anything for me. If I was a mainstream country artist, and I had a hit on the charts right now, then it would matter. But this way, there's kind of something for everyone, whether they're bluegrass fans or folks who are Robert Hunter and Grateful Dead fans, or folks who enjoy the straight ahead country stuff. I have another record I did over in England -- and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself -- but it's a record I did with Nick Lowe's band.